The ‘stuff twirling around’ in Cain’s head

When Rick Perry forgot one of his rehearsed talking points, he looked pretty ridiculous. When Herman Cain was asked about U.S. policy towards Libya yesterday, it was much worse.

Cain was meeting with some Milwaukee Journal Sentinel editors, who asked a rather straightforward question: do you agree with President Obama on Libya? The response has to be seen to be believed.

“OK, Libya,” Cain said, apparently trying to remember why the country is important. After nine seconds of silence, the Republican added, “President Obama supported the uprising, correct? President Obama called for the removal of Gadhafi. Just want to make sure we’re talking about the same thing before I say, yes I agree, or no I didn’t agree. I do not agree with the way he handled it for the following reason: no, that’s a different one.”

After another seven seconds of silence, Cain managed to say, “I gotta go back to see — got all this stuff twirling around in my head. Um, specifically, what are you asking me, did I agree or not disagree with Obama on?”

Eventually, the presidential hopeful tried to say he disapproved of Obama’s handling of Libya, though Cain couldn’t offer a coherent reason why.

Perry forgot part of his talking points; Cain doesn’t feel the need to understand foreign policy at even the most basic levels. The former is embarrassing; the latter is disqualifying.

Hoping to explain this car crash, the candidate’s spokesperson said Cain was “going on four hours sleep, so he was tired.” That’s not exactly persuasive. For one thing, we’ve all had occasions in which we’ve gone on four hours sleep, but managed not to become quite this ignorant. It’s not as if Libya is an obscure issue.

For another, sometimes candidates and presidents have to persevere even when they’re tired. If Cain isn’t up to the task, he shouldn’t run.

Indeed, perhaps now would be a good time for Cain and his supporters to explain why he even wants to be president. He doesn’t even seem interested in learning anything about current events or the basics of public policy. So why bother?

Dan Drezner’s conclusion seems about right: “There’s a mercy rule in Little League, and I’m applying it here — unless and until Herman Cain surges back in the polls again, or manages to muster something approaching cogency in his foreign policy statements, there’s no point in blogging about him anymore. I can only pick on an ignoramus so many times before it feels sadistic.”

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Steve Benen

Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.